Bill Moyers recently gave a speech at the Brennan Institute. If you go to his website, you can read an edited version of that speech, titled The Great American Class War: Plutocracy Versus Democracy.
Simply put, Moyers provides context - from a variety of sources, to what we currently confront, and how it fits in our history.
He quotes Justice Brennan, and his experience of why he was a liberal.
He looks at his own background, growing up a child of the Depression whose first 11 years of life overlapped with the vast majority of the Presidency of FDR.
He quotes a warning from The Economist and then adds pertinent words of his own:
Ten years ago the Economist magazine — no friend of Marxism — warned: “The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.” And as a recent headline in the Columbia Journalism Review put it: “The line between democracy and a darker social order is thinner than you think.”Please keep reading.
We are this close – this close! – to losing our democracy to the mercenary class. So close it’s as if we’re leaning way over the rim of the Grand Canyon waiting for a swift kick in the pants.
The historian Plutarch warned us long ago of what happens when there is no brake on the power of great wealth to subvert the electorate. “The abuse of buying and selling votes,” he wrote of Rome, “crept in and money began to play an important part in determining elections. Later on, this process of corruption spread in the law courts and to the army, and finally, when even the sword became enslaved by the power of gold, the republic was subjected to the rule of emperors.”After this, Moyers, provides examples of what we confront, starting with
We don’t have emperors yet, but we do have the Roberts Court that consistently privileges the donor class.He continues in a similar fashion to excoriate the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Republican party - abiding by fair use prevents me from quoting all of that.
Perhaps this paragraph provides an appropriate summary:
Why are record numbers of Americans on food stamps? Because record numbers of Americans are in poverty. Why are people falling through the cracks? Because there are cracks to fall through. It is simply astonishing that in this rich nation more than 21 million Americans are still in need of full-time work, many of them running out of jobless benefits, while our financial class pockets record profits, spends lavishly on campaigns to secure a political order that serves its own interests and demands that our political class push for further austerity. Meanwhile, roughly 46 million Americans live at or below the poverty line and, with the exception of Romania, no developed country has a higher percent of kids in poverty than we do. Yet a study by scholars at Northwestern University and Vanderbilt finds little support among the wealthiest Americans for policy reforms to reduce income inequality.And that is part of the problem, because increasingly - thanks to the Roberts Court, to the Senate being populated by millionaires who seem to have forgotten about those who are struggling, to a Republican party (and too many Democrats) who are beholden to the corporate interests and the wealthy who control and benefit from them - the wealthiest Americans have no interest in anything that does not further enrich and empower them, and in the process our democracy is disappearing, the social contract that should bind us together is being shredded and the notion of "we the people of the United States" is becoming obsolete, as this become evermore
a government of the corporations, by the already powerful, for the wealthyas I wrote in this piece for CNN.Com in February, 2011.
Moyers is no idealist. He is a hard-headed realist, a journalist, a former student of theology, someone who has observed and thought about what this country means for more than half a century, who has used his various programs as a means of allowing other thinkers to have their ideas expressed to a broader audience.
There are three more paragraphs that I feel I must quote. I will do so one at a time, although they run consecutively, because I want to offer some additional thoughts of my own on each.
In one way or another, this is the oldest story in America: the struggle to determine whether “we, the people” is a moral compact embedded in a political contract or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others.This is one of the early battles of this nation, starting with the event that actually led to our Constitution being written, Shays Rebellion, which scared the moneyed classes into coming together to "fix" the flawed Articles of Confederation. The government they created was NOT a democracy - those people who could vote - largely white, male, property owners over the age of 21 - could only vote directly for the House of Representatives, with democracy held at bay through the indirect elections of Presidents and Senators.
It is also part of the battle between Jefferson and Hamilton. Each had his strengths, each had his flaws, but the Federalist approach of Hamilton keeps reappearing, as it did in the Gilded Age (and in Supreme Court decisions such as Lochner v New York) and as it does again with the Roberts Court and Citizens United, among other atrocious decisions. IT certainly appears when a budget deal negotiated in part by a Democratic Senator will cut retirement benefits for those who have served in the military for a pittance of a savings but impose no additional taxes or responsibilities upon those making billions in the current economy, sitting on trillions of cash, while millions have no jobs or what jobs they have are losing benefits and are insufficient to maintain a family, plan for the future, and whose retirement plans increasingly will be to keep working until they drop dead.
I should make it clear that I don’t harbor any idealized notion of politics and democracy. Remember, I worked for Lyndon Johnson. Nor do I romanticize “the people.” You should read my mail and posts on right-wing websites. I understand the politician in Texas who said of the state legislature, “If you think these guys are bad, you should see their constituents.”Here I will disagree somewhat with Moyers. I agree about the expressions one encounters from those constituents. But that is for many because that is all they have ever been taught - by politicians who manipulate them, by preachers who distort the Bible, by petty and larger tyrants who will willingly turn people against one another and against their own interests so long as they themselves maintain power and gain riches.
It is a problem. It is solvable. But when those on "our side" take the approach that so long as they are marginally to the left of the Republicans, then the real progressive approach that would speak even to many of these constituents goes unheard.
When the journalists no longer see themselves as tribunes of the people but are more concerned with to whose Christmas party they will be invited, the press ceases to have a function on behalf of we the people, even if ownership was not increasingly concentrated in hands that seek to use that power to propagandize on behalf of the powerful, not when a Democratic administration seeks to neuter the press by going after journalists as well as those who expose the wrongdoings in the past as well as the current administration.
But there is nothing idealized or romantic about the difference between a society whose arrangements roughly serve all its citizens (something otherwise known as social justice) and one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud. That can be the difference between democracy and plutocracy.one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud
and any institution that attempts to stand up to this steamroller finds itself marginalized if it is lucky, privatized or crushed if it is not so lucky.
The words I quote from my CNN piece are of course derived from Lincoln, from Gettysburg. Moyers ends with a similar reference to that speech. I will let him have the final word, as I again strongly urge - demand - that you go read and consider the entire speech:
One hundred and fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln stood on the blood-soaked battlefield of Gettysburg and called Americans to “the great task remaining.” That “unfinished work,” as he named it, remained the same then as it was when America’s founding generation began it. And it remains the same today: to breathe new life into the promise of the Declaration of Independence and to assure that the Union so many have sacrificed to save is a union worth saving.